lundi 25 juillet 2016

Pre Phono: Van den Hul Grail; Audia Flight Phono; Grandinote Celio.

If it was a turntable it would be a direct drive, a Garrard.
If it was a tonearm it would be a Linn Ekos
If it was a cartridge it would be a ...yes a VDH.
If it was a geographical place it would be the Savanes in South Africa
If it was a wine it would be a Barolo Pio Cesare
If it was a pianist it would be Sviatoslav Richter
If it was a jazz guitar player it would be Wes Montgomery

If it was a tonearm it would be a Triplanar
If it was a turntable it would be an high mass, a Mitchell Orbe.
If it was a cartridge it would be a Dynavector
If it was a geographical region it would be Brittany in France.
If it was a wine it would be a Chateau Latour
If it was a pianist it would be Evgeni Koroliov
If it was a jazz guitar player it would be Joe Pass

If it was a turntable it would be a Sota.
If it was a tonearm it would be a tangent one or a Naim Aro; I couldn't decide between the two
If it was a cartridge it would be a Koetsu
If it was a region it would be the region of Tuscane in Italy.
If it was a wine it would be a Chassagne-Montrachet
If it was a pianist it would be Anton Rubinstein
If it was a jazz guitar player it would be Grant Green

Audia Flight Phono

This unit MUST BE BROKEN IN. Audia says it runs for 50 hours and this is the least for it to sound ok, but if your unit for a reason or another has not been ran in you will be aware of it very easily: it will sound bad. As simple as that. It is not a question of getting used to its sound. If it does not have enough hours of playing you cannot get used to the sound it makes since it sounds very poorly. The high frequencies will be aggressive and the sound will be closed in and also a little slow. After about 30 hours of music playing, not just leaving the unit on, it will start improving. At about 40 hours the unit starts to sound quite good and it will become excellent only later.
Of course I will write about its performance after the run in process has been done. So now you know that if you buy this unit and it doesn't sound good it means it needs to be played for many hours. I say this because we are at a level with these phono stages that if you buy any one of these without even earing it or comparing it  you will be totally happy.  And even comparing them will put you to the point of not defining a better or worse but of different qualities. Only at direct comparison you could prefer slightly one over the other, each one is so complete and so well balanced in its performance that you cannot not like it.
For this reason in the prelude I wrotw many of if it would be a pianist or a jazz guitar player it would be and so on. If you realized they are compared to absolutely excellent musicians , wines and so on.
Now back to the Audia and its main characteristic: warm austerity.
It is strange to combine these two adjectives. Generally when we think about austerity we think about being cold too. Not here. I don't have many things to compare this strange feeling to if not to a composer: Bach. If the Audia  was a musician it would be Bach. I think the music of Bach describes the Audia well. It has power and composure, it is austere but light and warm at the same time. It is articulate and deep and even when it goes fast it doesn't show it. It let the music go but always in a controlled way, it is easy but complete at the same time. Now about its warmth. How can be a unit absolutely neutral, austere and at the same time warm to make me think of Bach? The midrange warmth is not due to any kind of colorations. It is dead neutral. So from what this coloration comes from? It took me a while to figure this out. It is given by a lesser dynamic contrast or less evident then in the other range transient attack in the bass medium range. Doing this way the bass the medium is not coloured or pushed up a la Linn LP12 or a la LS3/5a giving an euphonic warmth, but it looses that very small percentage of transparency  that would bring this unit to sound clinical. I found out this to give also an elegant signature to its sound.
And then now we have to talk about the silence between the notes.  The Audia is the master of silence. This silence space is dark but not thick. I hate when is thick. Its redention of the silence is the best of the other two phono here. Another thing that the Audia does better then the other two phono here is the layering in the depth. This depth is at a level of absolute reference.
The Audia is the phono stage here that gave me more the feeling of giving what it gets and adding  less of its own to the music reproduction.
At its proposed price is an unbelievable achievement and very hardly understated since we don't have any recent review of this phono stage. It is on a pair with one of my two reference units that and very close to the other one I use as reference loosing in its comparison some timbric richness (but this reference unit of miine is tubes) but winning with a deeper silence and more flexibility. One these two unit is more then double price the Audia and the othe r one is more then the triple of its price...

VDH Grail.

At this price range you need to have something to say in a more special way that is common. We are getting in a territory in which the performer does not only have to know how to do it but it must have its own way of doing right. Like excellent musicians. They are not just technically complete but also each one of them has its own way of giving you the same musical message.
For the VDH Grail this special characteristic is instruments differentiation, but not like we normally intend it, for this reason this is its special talent.This differentiation is due to the rendition of their very own dynamic window (rare) and accurate space more then their timbre differentiation that is good but not excellent or the tonal colours that are very good but not in the rarely heard land. I will add more about this individual dynamic window since this is a rare characteristic. You ear the dynamic of each instruments not in an open window that contains the all dynamic expression of all the musical message that is more common, but each instrument has its on window, bigger or smaller. This I found very fascinating and entertaining. In combination with a great dynamic contrast. The Grail has the best dynamic contrast of the other two phono here. It has power and finesse. 
It proposes you a music you can see.
You don't only ear the instruments but you have an almost material reconstruction, like an acoustic hologram. If you like this you cannot find a better phono then this one.
Life is what you can see or music is what it can make you see.

Grandinote Celio

Here the key word is: you must know what you want and what you are doing.
I develop this concept. 
It does not has the layering in the depth of the Audia or its silence between the instruments or the dynamic contrast of the VDH Grail but with no doubt has the best timbre and timbrique shades. Expecially in the high frequencies is capable of giving textures and shadings and this is extremely rare. Then it manages to give the best medium bass that I have ever heard on a phono stage. This region is extremely detailed without being analitical or hard . It is just at the border of doing too much but it doesn't do it. It stops just a little before. 
Its bass goes deep but it is not tight but manage the rare ability to be agile even though it shoudn't be since a little soft. It is like a fat cat. It is agile in its movements even though is a little soft.
This is what you get with no loading so at 47kohm or at about 1000ohm.
If your system and your cartridge likes it or your intention is to build an analogue source around the Celio you will get to a magic level, you will get a fluidity that it even rare in the best tubed unit with a silence that for the tubed unit is absolutely imposible to obtain.
But if your cartridge or one of your cartridges don't like the 47 kohm load (or 1000 ohm) and you need to load the Celio down things will change. You will loose its magic. It will become just very good. If you like fluidity, tibres, and an absolutely impressive transparent and spelling medium range, just get the Celio and buy a cartridge that likes the open loading. I had an extremely good combination with a VDH Black Beauty medium output (1mv). 
The Celio is like a F1. You cannot blame the car if you didn't use the right tires or the right aereodinamic charge or setting. The Celio does not forgives. Or to say it better it forgives your mistakes but you pay for them loosing its magic. And out there there are very, very very few magic units. If you want magic get a Celio and work with it. You should just consider the Celio as the starting point of your analogue chain. It is the status  it likes to have and that deserve to have considering the final results you can get out from it.

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